Credentialism can be regarded as a way of evaluating a person’s skills and abilities based on his or her academic qualifications. As Brent and Lewis put it, credentialism implies “the tendency to overemphasize the receipt of a diploma or academic degree rather than a particular skill or experience” (520). The given concept is widely applicable to the present-day context of employment in many societies, especially the advanced ones. Many employers tend to view the presence of a particular educational certificate or a diploma in candidates’ portfolio/resume as a guarantee that they are knowledgeable and competent enough to perform professional duties. When such an assumption is widespread among community members, it means the society is credential.
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The United States is a highly credential society. Nowadays, the significance of academic achievement is emphasized and is regarded almost as a synonym of professional success. According to recent statistical data, since 2000, the number of public college enrollees has grown from 11,75 million to 15 million by 2017 (“U.S. College Enrollment Statistics”). Partially, this drastic increase in numbers may be associated with a ubiquitous aspiration to get higher degrees as they promise greater income and better quality of life. It signifies that a high school degree does not mean much in the modern society even if you perform exceptionally well in all of the attended classes. It will be valid to presume that the demand for a more advanced and a specialized knowledge grows proportionally with the prestige and importance of post-industrial professional spheres, research, and technologies.
Even though it can be easy to provide a rationale for credentialism in the United States, it is impossible to ignore its possible negative implications. The first thing that comes to mind is that a lot of talented people may be unable to pursue academic development on the secondary level due to social-economic disadvantages. As a result, it will likely be very hard for them to get a well-paid job consistent with their innate abilities. It will also be difficult for them to grow professionally if employers do not provide them with an opportunity to learn through experience. Secondly, as Macionis and Plummer note, credentialism promotes over-education, which means that employees get too much education than it is actually needed to perform their jobs adequately (534). Moreover, it is observed that while the amount of highly educated people grows, the number of jobs allowing to apply all their knowledge in practice becomes insufficient (Macionis and Plummer 534). At the same time, much more vacancies requiring lower-rank skills remain open.
The increasing emphasis on grades associated with credentialism rather than actual knowledge and skills may be detrimental in many ways not merely in the professional context. For instance, when at school a student does not meet the established academic standards, he or she may feel discouraged and lose motivation in education as such. Thus, credential environments often create disadvantaging situations for learners.
Such a perspective on education is closely linked to critical theories of education aimed at “mapping injustices in education, tracing those injustices to their source, seeking and proposing remedies to those injustices” (Sever 655). As the analysis conducted in the paper shows, credentialism is one of the major sources of injustice in education as it prevents many individuals from acquiring success after high school graduation. Following the third concern of the critical theory − the proposition of remedies, − it is possible to suggest that a greater emphasis on the development of knowledge in students and consideration of their individual characteristics throughout the education process can become a proper solution to the identified issues.
Brent, Edward E., and J. Scott Lewis. Learn Sociology. Jones and Bartlett Learning, 2014.
Macionis, John J., and Ken Plummer. Sociology: A Global Introduction. Prentice Hall, 2012.
Sever, Mustafa. “A Critical Look at the Theories of Sociology of Education”. International Journal of Human Sciences, vol. 9, no. 1, 2012, pp. 650-671.